After dropping the first game in the best-of-3 Gulf Coast League Finals, the Phillies found themselves in an early 2-0 deficit on Tuesday before turning to reliever Nick Fanti with a simple set of instructions -- give us a chance. By the time the dust settled, he ended up being the team's ace in the hole.
Entering in the third inning, Fanti struck out six and allowed only three hits over 5 1/3 scoreless frames as the Phillies scored three times in the bottom of the fifth and held on to take Game 2 of the GCL Finals, 3-2, on Tuesday. The win forces a decisive Game 3 in the complex level's championship series, which will take place Wednesday at 12 p.m. ET.
"Just keep it close, that's all I was thinking," said the 19-year-old left-hander. "Just give the hitters the chance to make a comeback. Everybody was on the same page, as far as that goes. Then, we got our big inning, and that was enough."
Fanti entered in the third after starter Kevin Gowdy went two frames and allowed two unearned runs on two hits and two errors -- all in the first inning. The Cardinals had their best chance to score on the southpaw in the fourth, when Stefan Trosclair tripled with one out. The Cards first baseman was promptly picked off, a miscue that was underscored when Wadye Ynfante followed with a single. Fanti, who said he relied heavily on his fastball control Tuesday and used his curve to great effect, didn't allow another hit until he gave up a double to Irving Wilson in the eighth, though he too was caught on the bases trying to advance to third on a ball hit to Phillies shortstop Cole Stobbe.
While Fanti was holding things down on the mound, the Phils scraped together three runs on four hits in the fifth with two of those tallies coming on a two-out single by Jhailyn Oriz.
Phillies reliever Jose Nin made it interesting in the ninth, giving up two singles, advancing the runners on a wild pitch and issuing an intentional walk -- all with one out. The 21-year-old right-hander got Starlin Balbuena to bounce into a 6-4-3 double play that ended both the Cardinals' threat and the game.
On a team that was highlighted by top overall pick Mickey Moniak and finished the regular season with an astounding 43-15 record, Fanti ended up being a standout. A 31st-rounder in 2015 out of a Long Island high school, Fanti led the GCL with 65 strikeouts, an 11.3 K/9 and a 1.70 FIP and ranked second among league qualifiers with a 1.57 ERA and 0.87 WHIP over 51 2/3 innings during the regular season.
"It's been an awesome year," he said. "Last year I was relieving mostly, but this year they wanted to make me primarily a starter. That's the role I've been most comfortable in, even though I can do both, and it's been a really fun year. A lot of that has to do with the guys around me. This is a comfortable team to play with. There's never added pressure -- no rifts or anything like that. That's why we're here."
Fanti made eight of his nine appearances in 2015 out of the bullpen and had piggybacked twice earlier this summer. But Tuesday marked his first career postseason appearance and offered another chance to show how he's a different pitcher than he was going back to his first Spring Training in March.
"Confidence [has changed], for sure, and being able to slow the game down," he said. "I've done a better job of going back and focusing on what I need to do next instead of getting ahead of myself. Our pitching coaches down here preach that stuff all the time -- slowing the game down, staying positive, never getting down on yourself. It's helped me a lot this year."
Because of his work Tuesday, Fanti won't be available out of the bullpen Wednesday when the Phillies try to round out a potentially special year with a GCL title, but he's confident in his fellow Phillies pitchers.
"I can't wait," he said. "I know whoever gets the ball is going to get us the Game 3 victory. It's going to be a lot of fun."